A friend of mine is due to have a baby soon, and so asked me for tips on being a father, being as I have a 17 month old daughter. Now I’m not a childcare guru, but I thought I’d make a stab at some advice. This will by no means be an exhaustive post, but hopefully, I’ll be able to cover the main points.
The first thing I would say is that only you are responsible for your baby, and so it follows that you are free to ignore any advice that anybody else gives – even the so-called experts – and follow your own instinct. Your baby is an individual, with individual needs, and you have to meet those needs in a way that you can cope with and that also satisfies you baby.
Once baby is born, kiss your old life goodbye. You can still do the things you used to, like going to town, maybe, but they will take longer to do and will require more planning.
Something I noticed about my daughter not long after she was born was that there was a rhythm to her day. The rhythm mostly consisted of eat, sleep, poop. Not always in that order, but close enough. I was lucky enough to be able to look after my daughter for 2 days a week, and I quickly realised the pattern to her day, and once I got in sync with her pattern, I was able to plan around it. There is nothing worse than a baby crying for a feed when you don’t have it ready yet. You need to always be ready for the next event in your babies life. If you know your baby will be hungry in 30 minutes, boil the kettle so the water is cool enough when you need to prepare a feed, and make sure the bottles are sterile.
If your baby cries, there is a limited amount of things it could be. Here is the checklist. A crying baby could be hungry, need some love, need a sleep, or need a nappy change. Or. Possibly. Teething. As long as you have a supply of nappies, nappy sacks, bonjela, calpol and lovin’, you are half way there.
Nappy changes are not as bad as you think. Get over it and get it done. The quicker you can change a nappy, the better. Most babies don’t like nappy changes, but you need to take control of the situation and be firm and fast. Also, babies have a habit of pooping and/or peeing when you are tying to change their nappy. I prefer to partially remove the old nappy, leaving it under babies bum. and clean up the worst of the poop. Then, take off the old nappy, quickly clean anything you missed, put the new nappy under babies’ bum, slap on some sudocrem and fully strap the nappy on as soon as humanly possible. Don’t stop to chat or admire the gurgling noises baby is making. Do not be distracted in this task, it will be your downfall. When attempting a nappy change, have everything to hand before you start. Change mat. Nappies. Baby wipes – or cotton if your baby is like mine and has a sensitive bottom, and a nappy sack. Change nappies as soon as you suspect soiling, nappy rash is not pleasant for baby, and, therefore, not pleasant for you. If your baby has nappy rash, don’t be stingy with the sudocrem.
You need to be able to get your baby to sleep. I recommend something like this vibrating cradle. We didn’t have one of these, initially, but when we got one, we wondered what the hell we did without it!
Forget moses baskets, you don’t really need one. Baby will grow out of it fast. Get a proper cot instead. Have a musical toy which you play when you put your baby to bed so that they associate the specific music with sleep time. You will need to change nappies in the middle of the night. Try to avoid bright lights, use the dullest light you can find so that baby doesn’t think it is day time and want to get up and play. Also, put something that smells of you in the cot… not stinky socks. Or maybe lightly spray some of your aftershave or mum’s perfume, so the baby is comforted by smells of you. Remember, newborns can’t see very well, so smelling you is a comfort.
If you have a car, get a car seat before baby is born. I went for a separate car seat and pram rather than getting a ‘travel system’ which combines a pram with a car seat. This is just my personal preference, but I prefer a specific thing for a specific job. It is why I don’t use the camera on my phone to take pictures or video, I have a separate camera and camcorder if I need to do that, because that is what they are designed to do.
Entertaining babies is hard work. They quickly get bored, you should build a repertoire of stuff to do to entertain your baby. Toys that beep are good. Snuggly teddies are good. Singing nursery rhymes is good. Playing music is good. Looking into a mirror or out of a window is good. Strapping baby into a pram and going for a stroll is doubly good if you need baby to sleep.
Oh, and don’t forget the mother of your child. Just because you go out to work all day and she stays at home with junior, don’t think for a split second that she isn’t working.
Let me make a small, but important point.
MOTHERS (AND FATHERS!) WHO STAY AT HOME TO LOOK AFTER A BABY ARE THE HARDEST WORKING PEOPLE ON THE PLANET. IF YOU THINK YOU HAD A BAD DAY AT WORK, BEFORE YOU GET HOME AND WHINGE ABOUT IT, WHY NOT JUST OPEN UP A CAN OF SHUT-THE-FUCK-UP BECAUSE YOU HAVE IT EASY. YOU HAVE NOT WORKED HARD UNTIL YOU HAVE SPENT A FEW MONTHS LOOKING AFTER A BABY ON YOUR OWN.
Seriously. I didn’t overstate that last paragraph. I looked after my daughter full time for two days a week, the other three days I spent at work, and the weekend was joint care time. Those three days at work were a break from the real business of looking after a child. They were easy. A walk in the park. My job was the easy part of my life. Babies are so much more demanding than your killjoy boss at work who wants you to get a spreadsheet finished in time for the big executive pow-wow.
Sleep deprivation is a big problem. So much so that I began falling asleep during my commute to work and back. Sleep as much as you can. Sleep when the baby sleeps. If there are two of you available to look after the baby, take turns with things like getting up in the night to change nappies, or getting up early in the morning to feed baby. How single parents of young children cope, I don’t know, praise be unto them.
Don’t keep your baby in your bed, even if it makes it easier to breast feed… (Breast is best.). At some point, baby will have to move to a cot, and I speak from experience when I say it is worth it teaching baby from day 1 that they have their own cot and that is where they sleep.
Your baby will emit cries that are perfectly pitched to make you respond, panic even. Remember all those crying babies in public places that used to piss you off? Well, you will suddenly find empathy with the parents. If baby cries, check nappy, check for teething, and think about the last time you fed baby, are they hungry? Finally, maybe baby just wants to sleep, or cuddles, in which case, soothing nursery rhymes and snuggles will do. It is important not to panic over why baby is crying. Babies, can smell fear, never let baby know you are in a panic, this will upset baby. Remain calm. If you cannot remain calm, hand baby over to someone who can, or put baby into their cot and take a breather for a minute. You are in charge, not baby.
Have a bag ready for whenever you go out. Keep a clean change of clothes and several spare nappies in the bag at all times so it is ready whenever you want to leave the house.
If baby is happy, you can leave her her on a play mat on her back. You don’t have to constantly be holding your baby, you need to let them have some play time to discover things like rolling over.
I think that is it. All common sense really! If I think of anything else I’ll post some more.